Commentary

Time for a Jam Session!

Do we underestimate our brands' most loyal consumers? Of course, I am not referring to their intelligence, but to their creativity and passion for the brand. Today's question is this--who can sell your brand better, the person you've hired to sell it or the person who has used the product for most of his life? And if peer-to-peer is as powerful a mechanism for your brand as research indicates, should your consumers create your video advertising? As always, I'll look at this from a few angles before offering a suggestion or two.

The Creative Agency View

Great ad agencies develop video campaigns for the ages. Nothing can beat a great campaign, and some agencies have been able to maintain greatness for decades. The mass impact of the :30 TV spot has not been equaled in a TV-centric media culture for 50 years. Awards abound for outstanding work, and the marketer and ad agency bask in the glory. And without award-winning creative, your brand will not break through or stand out. Only ad agencies can offer professional-grade services. According to creative agencies, you get what you pay for, so this option certainly makes sense--if you're working for a creative agency.

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The Loyalist View

Now, before I go any further, let me caveat this position by saying I'm a digital media guy, through and through. As part of my job, I'm expected to save my clients money while being innovative. And after I'm done beating up media properties on cost, I'm done--until I'm asked about rich media and creative. With that in mind, clients could outsource creative work to their consumers to save additional money. Consumer-generated media is very popular, and as such, you would think that tapping into customer testimonials would be a higher priority. The idea is simple and has been done before: make it a contest; give away $5,000 or more to the winner for the rights to show the winning :15 ad as your online video campaign.

By my estimation, I've saved my clients a couple hundred thousand dollars at minimum versus creating a good :15. Promotion of the promotion would be integrated into the existing banner campaign as a rich media tab or some other means, adding no extra cost for media weight. The next step is to infiltrate blogs, search, Flavorpill, and any other means of embracing the artistic world, plus a link on the brand's Web site. With this added cost, I've still saved 6-figures. I've also added grass roots marketing as a component of the campaign, and I haven't even discussed the press or buzz this type of campaign could solicit among the community.

The best part of all this is that the end product speaks with the voice of your consumers--what they like, how they see you as a brand, and in first person. Ads sometimes aspire to capture and communicate insights at this level. Who better to do it than the person eating, drinking, or living your brand for five 10, 20 years? This view provides a level of authenticity that an expensive, hired agency cannot offer, due to the consumer being the source. The super-low out of pocket is an added bonus. For a media guy, I couldn't offer a better solution than loyalty.

Might Be Time For Your Own Innovation Jam

Among other things, this article was partially inspired by IBM's Innovation Jam. On July 24th of this year, IBM brought together 100,000 innovators for the first round of a global, virtual brainstorm. The strongest ideas could receive up to $100 million in financial support. ( See the Business Week online article entitled "Big Blue Brainstorm" for more details.)

Now, if you're a large, well-recognized brand, it should be relatively easy to bring together thousands of your best, most loyal brand ambassadors for your own video creative jam session. From that session, you can fund the best idea for your consumer to use as a creative brief. If you feel strongly that an ad agency's expertise and polish are needed, use the insights to direct the creative process.

Either way, the brand wins. If the brand wins, the team wins--which should always be our objective. It's time to get over the idea not coming from Agency A or Media Shop B, in a world where collaborative outsourcing is a winning strategy.

Based on experience, yes, it's true that consumers of your brands may not be able to offer the same professional-grade creative services of your agency. However, it would be unwise not to listen to the consumers' voice. Think of consumer-generated anything as a focus group in an uncontrolled environment. An online environment will most certainly produce insights that 10 people sitting around a table most likely will not, especially if the information is gathered using new and improved tactics. So for your next jam session, be sure to include 10,000 of your best, brightest and most creative consumers--and you might save a few bucks along the way.

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